Saturday, January 12, 2008

Land of Hope and Dreams

The overwhelming quiet of America's historical ghosts stand in stark contrast to the loud and bright comforts we surround ourselves with. Not very far from the interstates with 4 lanes of unending concrete, not so far from the enormous super shopping centers with their acres of blacktop, lie the remains of America's forgotten places. Not so long ago these old towns and homesteads were the centers of activity that pushed the development of the West. Now, their quiet underscores an ending that their founders never envisioned.

Small single-room schoolhouses sit abandoned in ghost towns or along the country roads that used to feed small farms. Nearby, a rise in the ground extends horizon to horizon. It's covered with dry weeds and rolls for miles and miles between these small towns. At one town, an old station stands beside it with a roof caved in and windows broken out. The station, like the town and the railroad, are no longer links to a growing world or the romance of travel now long forgotten. Where passenger trains named 'Olympian' and 'Columbian' roared, weeds grow and the old station creeks in the brutal sun of a hot summer day.

This was the land of hope and dreams. This was the place where homesteaders started anew and the now quiet lifelines raced with people and commerce. Time has taken its toll in these places, everyday a little bit less is left. The abandonment of the Milwaukee is more than just a story about a failed corporation or a study in corporate missteps. It's the same deep story that grips so many of these small places that are sprinkled about the West. Where there was hope there's now desolation and where there were dreams now exists a stark, quiet reality. There's a sadness here in these places and along this railroad. It seems to be a sadness of what was but no longer is. You can feel it when you listen to the quiet and the rustle of the wind. While the world passes these memories by they cry out a warning that what we assume will last forever is, in fact, just as temporary as everything else. This is a real sadness and it's tempered only by a hope that it doesn't have to be this way and perhaps, it was never intended to be.

With restored steam locomotives like the 261 in action across the country we're reminded of the hope and dreams from a long time ago. Perhaps we're offered a glimpse of the alternative as well.